In Mirkwood, my father's home is a huge stone cavern but I cannot ever remember it feeling like this place. There is a power here that stifles all my rational thoughts and rasps on my emotions like some huge iron file, leaving them raw and bleeding. This place feels so dead. My spirit strains to find some whisper of life but my questions echo loudly in the silence. And yet something teases at the edges, stretching my senses to their limits, only to let them snap back, unsatisfied; the tendrils of my mind careening from infinite distance to foetal confinement.
Gimli rests his head upon the cold tomb of his sire's friend, his tears an echo of the ones I dam within myself. My hand wants to reach out and touch him, bring him some comfort, as he has comforted me these past days, but my body will not respond to my pleas to move.
The dwarf knew my fear within hours of entering Moria. I tried to hide it from him, unwilling to display such weakness before a dwarf, but we have travelled too far together for him not to guess the reason for my silence. He steps surely in the ancient halls of his people, troubled only by the decay of what once was great. Many times, in these past days, Gimli has tried to distract me from my thoughts. He has taken time to point out delicate carving at the base of pillars whose tops stretch into the gloom above us; or to name the different marbles just visible in the mouldering dust beneath our feet. I hold back tears of gratitude, surprised by the gentleness of a member of a race I have been trained to hate from the day of my birth. He seems to draw his fierce proud spirit from the very rock around us.
I feel so isolated. I have never been alone before. From the day I was conceived, I have been aware of the melody of this world. Surely somewhere, even here, there should be an echo of the song of Iluvitor? Yet, I hear nothing but my harsh breathing and the thunder of my own heart. I have always loved the night. Darkness has ever been my friend, the stars a companion to my soul. But here no stars sing my name, calling me to harmony with their soaring melodies. I feel the oppression of dark rock above me, the weight crushing my soul. The stone is hard beneath my feet, unyielding, no grass to cradle my weary steps. No brooks chatter, tumbling over shining pebbles, catching and playing with the twinkling lights of Elbereth above. Here there is only the echoing steady drip of water, filtered through the dense granite around me and pooling in deep holes, inky black. There are no trees to whisper secrets and ancient tales in my straining ears.
Sam never strays from his master's side. They lean together, even now. When we stopped to rest yesterday I noticed him sifting a small pile of dust through his gardener's fingers and I wondered if he was trying to assess whether it held any potential for life. His spirit glows strong and sure within him and I, like Frodo, grasp its firm steady light.
There is no musk of moist loam, no sweet scent of crushed grass or perfume of flower drifting on a warm stray breeze. Instead, my nostrils itch with the fine dust drifting, disturbed by our passage. It is laden with a metallic tang and something else. My eye is pulled to the heaps of crumbling corpses scattered on the floor around us and my breath catches, trying not to draw too deeply of this foul stuff that I cannot bring myself to call, air. On our way here cold and sterile drafts flowed out at us from passages opening to left and right, like the frigid exhalation of death, its breath giving no refreshment to my skin or lungs.
Used to encompassing vast distances my vision has been limited to the confining circle of the dim light of Mithrandir's staff. Shadows crowded in about me, hiding unknown chasms and imagined vastness, inhabited by monsters long forgotten from childhood nightmares. At least within this chamber a light filters dimly from high above us and my eyes at last discern walls and furnishings, all cracked and broken. But still, beyond this room the darkness smothers all and I feel its presence waiting to enmesh me once more.
Boromir watches at the door. He has been ever hindmost of our company. I have often heard his heavy step at my back and felt grateful for his protection. He speaks little and seems wrapped in his own thoughts. Although there is great honour in him I know that the ring has already begun to thread his conscious thoughts with dreams of power and victory. This proud son of the Steward has seen his future snatched away from him by a man rising out of legend and dream. I sense the poison of the ring insinuating itself into his pride, and I fear that some day soon he will be lost to its siren call. His spirit, once so powerful, now turns sickly.
Aragorn is a solid presence at my side. He, too, is fearful but not for himself. He spoke of his forebodings for Gandalf before even we crossed the threshold of this darkling tomb and I know he strains to trace the first signs that his vision will arise to swallow our leader. Many times over past years we have travelled as equals together, man and elf. He knows, well, that I am distressed. Unable to help me he stays near, offering what support he can by his presence; letting me know that he understands my discomfort. Anchored in the history of his sires, the light of his spirit burns strong and steady beside me.
The Ring bearer stands with Gandalf, now, his eyes intent upon the book before them. Frodo, of all the hobbits I think, is the only one aware of my difficulties. There is a strong clear light within him, like sunlight through water but I can see the ring beginning to taint it. The crystal turns more cloudy with each step that he takes, closer to his doom and the doom of us all. I have watched his friends seek always to place themselves around him, as though their soft bodies can shield him from the weapons that our enemy hurls at him; seemingly unaware that the real threat is already within him.
Even Pippin's bright spirit is dimmed in this deep place. He tries to hide his fear with bright words that fly, brittle in our ears but I have seen him shiver, eyes open, as he lays sleepless in the watches of the night. Merry cares for him always, and Pippin relaxes when they walk side by side, sleeping more easily with the comforting presence of his cousin at his back. Yet, fear tugs at them both and I see their light burn bright and dim by turns.
Gimli rises from his vigil and comes to stand with Gandalf as the wizard reads aloud from the ruin of the book they have uncovered. My tormented spirit will not let me concentrate on his words.
Our guide, Mithrandir, pulls his spirit close, hiding it within grey veils. In our journey through the brooding darkness I felt him, often send out questing beams of thought, searching for the route through this maze. Sometimes his touch settled upon me, pushing gentle light and comfort into my quailing soul and for a moment the darkness that oppressed me was pushed back, then he moved on and I was bereft once more, floundering in dark meres of despair.
My mind screams in protest and I clench my teeth to stop the rising wail escaping from my lips. For the sake of my companions I must endure. It is only they who hold the lifeline to the tattered remnants of my sanity; the only signs of life within this dead world.
I must not give in to this madness. I have a duty to my comrades. I reach out again, desperate to find the source of my terror. Something slumbers in deep caverns. I touch the edge of its dreams and feel it stir to wakefulness. My friends turn to leave, heading back into the grim blackness that is Moria, but still I remain, a stone statue within a stone hall. There is a great noise: a rolling Boom that seems to come from depths far below and to tremble in the stone at our feet. A great horn is blown, an echoing blast that is answered by harsh cries further off. I stagger as, at last, my senses are set free and the shadow that has drowned them for so long pulls back. "Orcs." I can hear the sound of their iron clad feet, smell their fetid stench and feel the mindless anger of their presence. "They are coming!"